Arlington, VA - Mississippi Governor Kirk Fordice (R) yesterday signed the Mental Health Reform Act of 1997, which will overhaul the state's reputedly deficient mental healthcare system, a move heralded by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).
"This is truly an historical event," said NAMI Executive Director Laurie M. Flynn. "Families throughout Mississippi can now be reassured their loved ones who have a severe mental illness will receive adequate care no matter where they live."
The new law, to become effective February 1, 1998, will give the Mississippi Department of Mental Health jurisdiction over the state's 15 regional mental health centers. The centers have been largely exempt from any state oversight and are known to deliver widely varying services. The Mental Health Reform Act of 1997 will standardize care across the state and will establish group homes, 24-hour crisis intervention centers, and transitional placement facilities for persons waiting to be hospitalized. Under the current system, persons who are psychotic or in the middle of commitment proceedings are frequently placed in jail cells for extended periods of time until space becomes available in one of the state's psychiatric hospitals.
Under the new law, which provides $21 million in additional funds over a four-year period, healthcare workers will receive consistent training, and a grievance procedure for patients and families will be implemented.
We believe this landmark legislation finally begins to rectify the serious and widespread problems in our state's mental health system, said Mary Ann Renz, executive director of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Mississippi. Directly involved in the design of Senate Bill 2100, the state advocacy group that represents families and persons with serious mental illness worked closely with the legislation's main sponsor, Senator Billy H. Thames (D-Mize), by sharing personal family stories of the failed system and by identifying specific problems to address.
A 1990 study released by NAMI and Public Citizen's Health Research Group ranked Mississippi 47th out of 50 states in the provision of services to persons with severe mental illnesses. The report, Care of the Seriously Mentally Ill: A Rating of State Programs, highlighted major problems in the state's psychiatric hospitals, outpatient and community support services, housing programs, vocational rehabilitation opportunities, and children's services.
"Thanks to the courageous leadership of Senator Thames and Governor Fordice, Mississippi has a real opportunity to become a model state," Renz said. "We will now see a uniform system with accountability and responsibility and more humane treatment for our loved ones with severe brain disorders."
NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots organization solely dedicated to improving the lives of persons with severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depression, and anxiety disorders. NAMI has more than 140,000 individual members and 1,140 state and local affiliates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Canada. NAMI's efforts focus on support to persons with serious brain disorders and to their families; advocacy for nondiscriminatory and equitable federal and state policies; research into the causes, symptoms, and treatments for brain disorders; and education to eliminate the pervasive stigma toward severe mental illnesses.